Last week, we learned that the Chicago Cubs are willing to listen to trade offers for anyone on the roster, and it didn’t take long for teams to come a-callin’ about a certain starting pitcher.
A team source tells me that multiple teams have already been in contact with the Cubs about Matt Garza’s availability, including the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Texas Rangers. The Cubs have been telling teams that it will take a huge offer to pry Garza loose, which offer must include some ML-ready talent. Nothing is quite yet in the works, but the Cubs have had preliminary trade talks with the Rangers.
The natural questions that follow may come with surprising answers. The questions: why would the Cubs trade their best pitcher, who is only 28 (next week)? And doesn’t trading Garza raise the white flag on 2012, something Epstein and Hoyer have said they won’t do?
In short, the answers are the same: trading Matt Garza now can dramatically improve the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and beyond.
Allow me to explain.
First, and foremost, Matt Garza is a highly valuable commodity – even more so in a Winter where top-line starting pitchers are hard to come by. Garza is coming off arguably the best year of his career, and could net the Cubs upwards of three excellent, ML-ready young players in trade. The Cubs are faced with a choice: is it worth forgoing that value now in the hopes that Garza will still be highly effective (and healthy) in 2013/2014 and beyond (when he will be significantly more expensive, mind you), when the Cubs have a better chance of surrounding him with competitive parts?
And it’s not as though Garza is affirmatively cheap anymore. He’s under control for two more arbitration years, during which he’ll make about $9 million in 2012 and $13 million in 2013. Is that less than he’d make on the open market? Absolutely. But it’s also an amount of money significant enough that it merits consideration in the calculus about trading Garza.
To put a specific example on it, let’s say the Cubs could sign Edwin Jackson to a three-year deal, in which he’d make something like $9 million in 2012, and $10 to $12 million in 2013 and 2014. That’s actually probably an overestimate, which makes it conservative for this exercise. Jackson, who is the same age as Garza, is among a handful of middle tier starting pitchers available this Winter.
Now, Jackson is not Matt Garza, and represents a downgrade. But, because their salaries would be approximately the same in the near term, in exchange for the downgrade from Garza to Jackson – not Garza to nothing – the Cubs could pick up as many as three top, ML-ready prospects. For that downgrade in Garza to Jackson, the Cubs very well might have significantly improved the team overall. And, better, in the positions where those youngsters play, the Cubs save even more money, which could be used to improve the roster even further.
The point of this exercise is simple: even if the Cubs are determined to field the best possible team in 2012 – to say nothing of 2013 and beyond – it is conceivable that trading Matt Garza is one of the ways to accomplish that goal. It seems counterintuitive to trade your best pitcher to make your team better, but, in practice, it can very much play out that way.
This is what it means to trust Theo and Jed. And I do.